NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover is reportedly engulfed in a massive dust storm on the Red Planet. The only thing to worry is that the rover didn’t respond to a contact attempt made from Earth on Tuesday. It might be because of its low battery levels.
Notably, the Mars Opportunity rover relies on energy from sunlight to operate. Due to the dust storm on Mars, the sunlight has been blocked and the days have turned to nights. This could be the reason that the rover has put itself to low power fault mode to cope with low energy levels. In the low power fault mode, all the rover’s systems shut down except for the mission clock that wakes up the rover periodically and keeps a check on its power levels each day to see whether it can communicate.
According to NASA, it one of the most intense storms ever observed on Mars. First detected on May 30, the dust storm now covers a quarter of the planet or more than 15.8 million square miles, almost the size of North America and Russia combined. Back in 2007, Opportunity also survived planetwide dust storm blotted out the sun for two weeks.
John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said on Wednesday that though they are concerned about the rover not responding, they are still hopeful that the storm will clear out soon and the rover will begin to communicate again. The 15-year-old Opportunity last contacted the NASA engineers on Sunday morning. If in case the dust storm continues at the same rate, the rover won’t likely be able to charge for the next few days and will put itself back to sleep.
Jim Watzin, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, said the current dust storm is providing an unprecedented chance to study Mars. He added that knowing and understanding how these storms behave will help the space agency to plan future Mars missions.